It’s an honour few Canadians earn. Earl Borman was presented with a medal commemorating 70 years of continuous membership in the Royal Canadian Legion earlier this year.
“I was surprised to learn that I’m one of 39 people in B.C. who have 70 years Legion service,” said Borman, who will be 94 Sept. 25.
“I’m proud of the Legion and the work it does and that I can be a part of it. Our dues go to help servicemen, I’ve had help from them myself, and the Legion does a lot of service in the community for a lot of people.”
He remembers how he rode his bike 105 miles from Kitchener to Collingwood, Ont. for a job when he was 15, then rode back in July 1940 to join the Royal Canadian Army. After training in Canada he went to England, where he got the tattoo that still reads, Love Mother.
Borman was once on guard duty at the palace in England when King George VI was inspecting the troops. The king noticed Borman.
“He pulled me out of line and asked how old I was, if I was old enough to serve, and then turned to my commanding officer and told him to send home for my birth certificate. I guess that was done if the king said it should be.”
Borman was already an excellent shot from years of hunting in Ontario and he joined the Royal Canadian Regiment, an elite force which was sent to fight in Sicily and Italy with the British Eighth Army. The Royal Canadian Regiment still exists as an elite peace time regiment.
“We were sent out on night patrol as sharpshooters with escape supplies if we needed them.”
Borman has the map of the area, printed on silk so it could fold small, and some German and French money, all in a tin marked “tea.” He also still has his army dog tags (identification).
His photos are fascinating. One shows him with comrades, resting after battle and talking to General Montgomery.
“Our biggest battle was in Ortona. I’m proud that I was made a sergeant on the field there on Dec. 22, 1943. It showed that I was a leader.”
The fighting was fierce and emotional in many ways.
“We’d get up to the enemy machine guns and find there were 13 or 14-year-old German kids there. They had no idea what they were doing and sometimes we’d just let them run away. I was sniper for one day, but it was different from shooting in battle. I couldn’t shoot someone like that. I thought it would make me a killer.”
Borman has medals and ribbons for his participation in the Italian Campaign and a 2004 Rome Honours Canadian Italian Campaign marking his part in the liberation of Rome June 4, 1944.
He joined the Royal Canadian Legion in 1944 at the urging of the man, a Boer War veteran, who would later be his father-in-law.
“The Legion has meant a lot to me over the years. I used to go every day after work in Kitchener,” said Borman, who delivered mail there for 33 years. “And after I moved to Vernon in 1984, I went every day until a year ago. I liked playing cards and pool and talking to the guys. But it’s not the same since there are not many guys who remember what it was like what we went through. I’ve got nobody to share the memories.
“On Remembrance Day, I think about everyone who served our country everywhere at all times and those who didn’t come back and those who came back and helped build up the country.”
Borman has the piece of shrapnel that hit him in the back and resulted in an honourable discharge early in 1945 and he returned home in September 1945 to marry his childhood sweetheart.
He has three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren with another on the way.
Editor’s note: There will be a number of commemorative activities across the country marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War Aug. 4, 1914 and the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War September 1939.